"Give us your geniuses, your diligent, your best and brightest, yearning to breathe free."

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Phyllis Schlafly's latest column makes the claim that high-tech companies are engaged in a conspiracy against American workers by pushing the Federal government to allow more engineers to come to America under H-1B visas.

Like all visas, the H-1B visa is temporary permission to be in the United States, specifically to allow college-educated foreign nationals to work in "specialty occupations" such as engineering and architecture. I've worked side-by-side with engineers who are here on H-1B visas, and while I'm not prepared, with an early morning ahead of me, to make a detailed case in support of the program, I do want to respond to some of the things she says.

First, Schlafly denies that there is a labor shortage in high-tech fields and claims to know the hidden reasons behind the push to double the number of H-1B visas:

Three reasons motivate the tech giants to use their political clout and political action committee contributions to increase H-1Bs:

1. Cost-cutting: H-1B visa holders are paid much less than Americans.

2. The influx of H-1B visa holders depresses the "prevailing wage" for all computer techies and engineers.

3. The hiring of H-1B visa holders prevents potential competition from Americans who might choose to work for other firms or start companies of their own.

Reason 1 is false, and reasons 2 and 3 are dependent on reason 1. H-1B visa holders must, by law, be paid comparably to or better than American workers. Companies have to post notices listing the salary, job title, and experience of H-1B employees to allow other employees to verify that the visa holders aren't driving out American workers by accepting a low wage. The companies I have worked for have complied with this requirement. She goes on:

H-1B visas are not for entrepreneurs or executives. They are for employees who are tied to the company that imports them, much like indentured servants, and are supposed to depart from the United States after a few years....

H-1B visa holders cut industry costs but do nothing to improve innovation. Most innovators are Americans, and the successful immigrant entrepreneurs the industry brags about did not come here as guest workers on H-1B visas, but entered as children and were educated in U.S. universities.

Most H-1B visa holders I've known are using it as a first step to qualify for permanent residency and eventual citizenship. And the companies I've worked for are not going to Bangalore and Karachi to scout for employees, the way baseball scouts scour San Pedro de Macoris for new talent. Instead, international students who are earning advanced degrees at places like Oklahoma State University or the University of Kansas look for job opportunities that will allow them to work in their profession and stay in the US. They are not tethered to the first employer that hires them.

They may not all be entrepreneurs, but many of them are innovators. The hydraulic digital control loading and motion system -- the system that provides realistic control feel and motion sensations for pilot training -- used on hundreds of FlightSafety simulators worldwide was developed here in Broken Arrow by a Jordanian with a doctorate from OSU, assisted by a Finn who was a grad student at OSU at the time. The development of the new all-electrical version of the same system was led by the same Jordanian national, with the help of both Americans and other foreign nationals. Their contributions have made FlightSafety a world leader in the manufacture of flight simulators, enabling it to compete effectively against rivals based in Canada and France.

And these engineers are not going to steal our technology and take it back home. They love living here, their kids have grown up here, and they are here to stay. Even if they wanted to go back, "back home" doesn't have the capital to provide a place where they can do the challenging level of work they can do here.

This statement of Schlafly's just floored me:

Much of the Compete America discussion involved blaming the U.S. educational system and the fact that fewer U.S. students are going into math and computer sciences. Yes, U.S. students have figured out that our engineers have a bleak employment future because of insourcing foreigners and outsourcing manufacturing.

Isn't this the same Phyllis Schlafly who has been telling us what a bad job our schools are doing of educating our children in the fundamentals of reading, writing, and arithmetic? So now falling math scores and a decline of interest in the hard sciences are not the fault of goofy curriculum fads and too much focus on social engineering, but because engineers have a "bleak employment future"?

One of the things that makes America strong and prosperous is that the smartest people in the world want to live here, because we offer freedom, peace, and prosperity. When they come, they bring their own brains and then they sire brainy children. They buy homes here and spend their high salaries in our malls and supermarkets. They pay the same taxes (or even more) than we pay. They are building the intellectual capital of the United States of America. It's not so good for their home countries, but it's great for us.

Two more points, and then I really should call it a night:

(1) At a time when states like Oklahoma worry about a brain drain to places like Silicon Valley, talented foreign engineers help to fill the gap here in the heartland, as they're often happy just to be in the United States. Many find the slower pace and more conservative way of life here more like home and better for raising a family.

(2) Schlafly seems to think that engineering degree programs and computer programming courses automatically churn out the kind of engineers American companies need, and as long as Americans get that piece of paper they ought to be able to get a job. We do have to have a certain number of people who can do basic programming and simple engineering, but to stay ahead of the rest of the world we need people with agility of mind, with the ability to solve problems that haven't been solved before. That's a gift, a gift which can be refined and improved by education, but which can't be educated into existence. We can use all of those minds that we can find anywhere in the world.

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7 Comments

Paul Tay said:

Imported geniuses also make excellent stand-up comics who stretch the First Amendment to its limit. Think Captain Pecker will make another Tulsa visit? Naaaaaaaaaaaah.

Tony Mount said:

I agree that H-1B people are needed, but at least in Oklahoma, much of the shortage is due to the mess that the engineering programs in state schools have created. A great number of foreign undergraduate students, who are not noted for their talent or honesty, are coddled either out of political correctness or, more likely, for financial reasons. At the same time, native Oklahomans, whose parents have been paying taxes to support these institutions for a lifetime are being all but chased away. I personally know of numerous capable, competent students driven out of engineering programs out of sheer frustration with scheduling problems, turf wars between Tulsa and Stillwater campuses and just plain malicious abuse. This, in spite of riduculous amounts of money spent on facilities and faculty. Oklahoma students, taxpayers and citizens deserve better.

Anon said:

1st of all, more workers, lower prevailing price

secondly, i've seen all the 'laws' regarding H-1b broken, (wage, hiring without a specific project at a body shop etc), and i've seen it in TULSA, by the way

Twatch said:

I grew up in a period of time when the USA goal of going to the moon drove engineering and hard sciences and produced many excellent American practitioners. My own observation is that hard sciences are not being pushed in the educational system today. I am aware that the Intelligencia of today believe disciplined, logical, linear thinkers are Neanderthals that are the major source of what ails Man and are the bane of the freethinking "Fuzzy Math" Left. I can tell you that most effective disciplined engineers come from a “hands on” Life Experience; they do not come in large measure from the elite privileged class. Most of H-1B candidates come from the elite strata of their societies where fixing the plumbing means they called the plumber. The Oklahoma Professional Engineering Society projects a critical shortage of engineering and hard science practitioners after the “Baby Boomers” retire, I wonder why the Educational Establishment isn’t promoting engineering to American students as a profession in critical need (They used to with great success). Effective providers of practical principle bound solutions bring more to the table than a simple mastery of differentiating equations. Thirty-seven years of engineering and several experiences with H-1B engineers is the basis of my perspective.

Sneakz said:

Mike, it's my experience that many, but not all, H1-B holders are paid a bit less, but not significantly less, than permanent residents or citizens. That said, though, the H1-B program is essential to keeping companies up and running.

The anti-immigrant hysteria is obviously infecting the far right and the far left.

This leads to a broader discussion, though, about the migration of jobs to India and China, which we should take up at a later time.

Bill said:

I noticed when my brother graduated 15 years ago that all the advanced degrees in engineering, math, and other "hard" subjects all had Asian names (Indian, Chinese, Malay, etc.), while all the "soft" degrees such as Doctor of Education were granted to people with "American" names. So, some of this is intellectual laziness on the part of Americans.

For my job, we hire a lot of entry-level systems people straight out of college. We can no longer sponsor H1-B visas, because they have not been trained, so they have no "hard to find" skills. Annoyingly, when we train them (and promote them) we still cannot sponsor H1-B visas unless their new title has responsibilities more than 20% different. Not even sure how to quantify that.

We would like to be able to hire more US citizen/green card hires (for defense work, it is required), however, we have so many of those with GPAs below our cutoff, so it is difficult at best, and we must really compete for the best-qualified.

That said, I do believe that the H1B visa does lower wages overall, just due to supply and demand. Even though we do pay the same to the H1-B and US workers, I do think this holds prices down, which depresses the number going into the area to begin with.

Not sure what to do about it, because if they rise too much, offshoring becomes that much more attractive. The issue of high foreign enrollments in technical degrees becomes more pronounced as well, as this seems to make these programs less attractive to Americans.

Anon said:

it's inevitable, in any discussion of H-1b, that people wil say, that without H-1b, there'd be more outsourcing. That simply isn't true.

If you've ever worked in IT, you know that an outsourcer cant just walk in, market outsourcing services, and lift the systems 'cold'

Since I doubt anyone in this blog would take my word for it, I'll give you the word of WIPRO, an indian outsourcer - they say they MUST have H-1b, or they cant outsource. Now, they dont say this very publicly, but they do say it to shareholders, buried on page 108 of the annual report I have quoted and linked below.

See for yourself - saying that it's h-1b or outsourcing, is yet one more lie told to push h-1b visas, and promote a unique economic discrimination, that drives Americans out of the field. Why do you think Americans become dentists or proctologists? Because it's easy to learn? Because it's fun to look in those respective cavities? NO! So why isnt there a 'shortage'? They do it because it's well compensated.


http://www.wipro.com/investors/pdf_files/Wipro_Annual_Report_00-01-Financials.pdf

Restrictions on immigration may affect our ability to compete for and provide services to clients in the United States, which
could hamper our growth and cause our revenues to decline.
If U.S. immigration laws change and make it more difficult for us to obtain H-1B and L-1 visas for our employees, our ability
to compete for and provide services to clients in the United States could be impaired. This in turn could hamper our growth and cause
our revenues to decline. Our employees who work onsite at client facilities or at our facilities in the United States on temporary
and extended assignments typically must obtain visas. As of March 31, 2001, the majority of our personnel in the United States held
H-1B visas (645 persons) or L-1 visas (321 persons). An H-1B visa is a temporary work visa, which allows the employee to remain in the
U.S. while he or she remains an employee of the sponsoring firm, and the L-1 visa is an intra-company transfer visa, which only allows
the employee to remain in the United States temporarily. Although there is no limit to new L-1 petitions, there is a limit to the aggregate
number of new H-1B petitions that the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service may approve in any government fiscal year. We may
not be able to obtain the H-1B visas necessary to bring critical Indian professionals to the United States on an extended basis during years
in which this limit is reached. This limit was reached in March 2000 for the U.S. Government’s fiscal year ended September 30, 2000.
While we anticipated that this limit would be reached before the end of the U.S. Government’s fiscal year, and made efforts to plan
accordingly, we cannot assure you that we will continue to be able to obtain a sufficient number of H-1B visas.

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This page contains a single entry by Michael Bates published on December 18, 2006 10:49 PM.

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